SFU’s New Universal Washrooms

By: Terri Lucas, MA Student

July 20, 2018

In April 2018, SFU opened new universal washrooms in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) corridor, the Humanities corridor, and the Labour Studies corridor. The new washrooms are open to people of all genders, have private individual stalls, are accessible, and have a diaper change area.

When I attended my departmental graduate orientation in September 2017, faculty proudly mentioned that a universal washroom was being built in the department and that GSWS students had campaigned for it. So when the washroom opened in the GSWS department I wanted to find out more.

Nathan Lyndsay, a GSWS undergraduate student, led the campaign to raise awareness of how gendered washrooms are dangerous spaces for trans folks and to fight for gender inclusive washrooms at SFU. As well as organizing a “shit-in” protest in 2015, Nathan gave a Ted Talk, saying, “[Public] bathrooms, as they exist now, are spaces where normative performances of hyper masculinity and femininity are violently enforced and demanded. For folks who fall outside of the gender binary, bathrooms become dangerous and anxiety provoking to access. And this is happening every single time a trans person goes to the bathroom.”

GSWS faculty and staff were amazingly supportive of the campaign and had already been having conversations with SFU Facilities about the possibility of converting gendered washrooms in the department into universal washrooms. The student campaign fought for gender inclusive washrooms across the whole of SFU and put forward the following three demands:

·         All single-stalled accessible washrooms on campus to be converted to be gender inclusive

·         A number of multi-stalled men and women’s washrooms to be converted to be gender inclusive

·         A future policy at SFU to ensure all SFU buildings will be required to have gender inclusive washrooms

The campaign reached national news.

Nadine Boulay, a current PhD candidate in GSWS took part in the shit-in protest, which took place in a busy area of SFU’s Burnaby campus in 2015. I was lucky enough to interview Nadine to find out more about the campaign that led to our new washroom.

The new universal washroom has recently opened in the GSWS department. How did it come about?

I believe it largely came about thanks to the efforts of LGBT2SQ students and allies – particularly transgender and gender nonconforming folks – many of whom were GSWS undergraduate students. While there had been concerns about accessibility on the Burnaby campus for a while, over the past five years there has been a huge increase in public discussions and critiques of the relationship between gendered washrooms and transphobia. Nathan Lyndsay, who was a student in GSWS at the time, was one of the main student activists spearheading organizing the shit-in and asked fellow students from the department to join in. 

Tell me more about the shit-in.

I find that direct action in public spaces, particularly those that have a campy or humorous element to be very effective – and is very much in line with histories of queer and transgender activism. I was asked to participate in the shit-in, which took place on the fourth floor of the AQ in front of two newly built gendered bathrooms. With the advent of new bathrooms being built on campus, it was very disappointing that the administration decided to make these new washrooms gendered, rather than listening to the feedback from students that we need more all genders washroom spaces. Three of us sat in front of the bathrooms on chairs, with our pants halfway down as if sitting on a toilet – all three of us were queer and/or transgender/gender nonconforming. This action brought a lot of attention – which was the point! Often respectability politics do not translate to being heard. 

How long did it take from the start of the campaign for SFU to approve the new washroom in GSWS?

I can't say for sure as I was knee deep in thesis work and was not active for the majority of the protests – but the shit-in was in February 2015 and the universal washroom by the GSWS department on the 5th floor of AQ was just finished this year.

Students, staff, and faculty in GSWS, along with the Dean of Students and the Project Services Department of Facility Services, made the new universal washroom possible.

As well as the universal washroom on our corridor, there are gender inclusive washrooms on all three SFU campuses. And a new student union building is being built on Burnaby campus, which promises to have gender inclusive washrooms on each floor.